DENVER, SEPT. 13 -- John Elway showed today that he has gone beyond producing the occasional stunning play or dramatic drive; he has become a truly great player.

Elway's four touchdown passes in delirious Mile High Stadium led a 40-17 ransacking of the Seattle Seahawks. He completed 22 of 32 passes for 338 yards and led Denver to seven scores in eight drives in the second, third and early fourth quarters, assuming control of the game.

Seattle, a team many picked to finish ahead of Denver in the AFC West, did not help itself by committing five turnovers, which Elway and the Broncos turned into 27 points.

"Our turnovers were our downfall," Seattle quarterback Dave Krieg said. "If you think about this one too long, it'll haunt you for a long time. I want to forget about this one as quickly as possible or I'll get depressed . . .

"Our mistakes sure turned it around in a hurry. It didn't take long."

Seattle was in command early, scoring on its first three possessions, including two touchdown passes by Krieg. When Norm Johnson kicked a 25-yard field goal five minutes into the second quarter, Seattle held a 17-7 lead and 75,999 were uncharacteristically quiet.

The Seahawks even seemed in control after Elway led two medium-range drives that resulted in field goals of 37 and 42 yards by Rich Karlis that got the Broncos within 17-13.

But the first of three successive turnovers ruined the Seahawks. Denver would score 20 points in nine minutes.

After the second Karlis field goal, with just more than a minute to play in the first half, Bobby Joe Edmonds and Tony Burse of Seattle teamed up to fumble the kickoff.

Instead of the Seahawks having the ball, a couple of timeouts and a hot-handed Krieg on the field, Denver was threatening at the Seattle 21.

Elway completed three passes, the third going four yards to Steve Watson in the corner of the end zone on third and goal for the touchdown to put the Broncos up, 20-17.

Two years ago, maybe even last season, Elway might have gunned the ball only to watch it sail off Watson's hands for an incompletion. Not today.

"John had fantastic touch on that throw," Watson said. "He didn't drill it and he didn't throw it too soft so that their defense had time to recover."

Seattle would spend the rest of the afternoon trying to recover, with only negative results.

On the first series of the second half, Krieg (14 of 28 for 185 yards and three tipped interceptions) passed to the usually sure-handed Steve Largent. But the ball sailed off Largent and into the waiting arms of Denver safety Dennis Smith.

Elway needed only five plays to take the Broncos those 33 yards. On second and goal at the 5 he rolled and threw perfectly to tight end Orson Mobley for the touchdown, making it 27-17.

The Seahawks marched right back, only to turn it over again when receiver Ray Butler fumbled inside Denver's 10. Six plays later, Elway hit Vance Johnson with a 59-yard bomb for 34-14.

Seattle linebacker Greg Gaines didn't waste a lot of words in his postgame analysis.

"We couldn't stop Elway today," he said. "It was that simple and there was no question about it."

Watson said he's tired of hearing about Elway's maturation process. "He's way beyond that now," Watson said. "John is the true leader of our offense. You can't put him under any more severe conditions than he's already seen."

Seattle Coach Chuck Knox was as impressed as everybody else. "He turned just about every turnover into Denver points," Knox said. "I've said it over and over again, he's a major force in the league. He makes them go."

Elway, as his is custom, golly-gee-whizzed his way through the entire postgame exercise, but did say, "We had a great mix of plays; they didn't know what was coming next."

The game grew so lopsided that the personal matchup between Elway and Seattle's free-spirited rookie linebacker Brian Bosworth became meaningless.

Bosworth had said before the game he'd like to get a piece of "John Elway's boyish face," then proceeded to run Elway down and pop him right in the ear hole of his helmet early in the game.

Bosworth, even though some of his teammates don't care for it, has brought his college shtick with him to the NFL. He kept directing primal screams toward Elway, who nearly got caught up in the whole thing.

"He was right in my face and I was fired up," Elway said. "The first time he screamed at me I screamed back at him. He screamed back at me and I just decided to shut up."

Bosworth is unhappy that the NFL wouldn't allow him to wear number 44 and has protested the decision by wearing the number on the tape on his shoes.

But the number most people noticed yesterday was not the one taped to Bosworth's shoes or the "55" on his shirt; it was the "7" on the Denver quarterback's jersey.

Bosworth may have won the screaming match with Elway, but he acknowledged that Elway was the victor in the only game that counted.

"John was pretty fired up," Bosworth said. "He had a great game."

Seattle 14 3 0 0 17 Denver 7 13 14 6 40

First Quarter

S -- Turner 20 pass from Krieg (Johnson kick), 4:36

D -- Sewell 72 pass from Elway (Karlis kick), 5:47

S -- Warner 10 pass from Krieg (Johnson kick), 10:25 Second Quarter

S -- FG Johnson 25, 4:42

D -- FG Karlis 37, 9:29

D -- FG Karlis 42, 13:43

D -- Watson 4 pass from Elway (Karlis kick), 14:35 Third Quarter

D -- Mobley 5 pass from Elway (Karlis kick), 4:39

D -- Johnson 59 pass from Elway (Karlis kick), 13:28 Fourth Quarter

D -- FG Karlis 35, 6:33

D -- FG Karlis 29, 11:38

A -- 75,999

Seahawks Broncos First downs 15 25 Rushes-yards 20-108 41-166 Passing yards 169 338 Return yards 0 56 Passing 14-28-3 22-32-1 Sacked-yards lost 1-16 0-0 Punts average 3-44 1-37 Fumbles-lost 2-2 1-1 Penalties-yards 7-45 4-35 Time of possession 23:07 36:53

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING -- Seattle: Warner 11-83, Williams 5-18, Morris 2-6, Krieg 2-1. Denver: Winder 17-79, Lang 12-46, Willhite 6-19, Elway 4-16, Bell 2-6.

PASSING -- Seattle: Krieg 14-28-3, 185 yards. Denver: Elway 22-32-1-338.

RECEIVING -- Seattle: Largent 4-73, Warner 2-29, Butler 2-27, Tice 2-25, Turner 1-20, Skansi 1-11, Williams 1-5, Millard 1-minus 5. Denver: Johnson 4-96, Mobley 4-49, Watson 4-47, Kay 3-32, Sewell 2-83, Lang 2-17, Nattiel 2-15, Willhite 1-minus 1.

MISSED FIELD GOALS -- None.